Republican legislators have made their weak “replacement” for Initiated Measure 22’s lobbyist-gift cap even weaker.
When Senate State Affairs took up House Bill 1073 Wednesday, Senator Ryan Maher moved and Senator Billie Sutton seconded Amendment 1073cb, which every year would adjust both the $100 gift cap and the $75 meal exemption by the consumer price index.
I listened to the audio (SSA PM—hear timestamp 68:40) hoping to hear an explanation of why legislators would want to include a cost-of-living adjustment on this particular set of restrictions. So far they’ve included no COLA on campaign finance limitations (see SB 54). Are they (or the lobbyists who educate them) really so concerned about all the little freebies they receive throughout the year will be eaten up by inflation?
No one appeared eager to answer that question. After a few seconds of silence, committee chairman Bob Ewing called for a vote on the amendment. Senator Sutton called point of order, saying he’d seconded the amendment for discussion purposes, and by gum, he wanted discussion.
After some hemming and hawing from Senate prime sponsor Ernie Otten, House prime sponsor Speaker G. Mark Mickelson dragged himself to the microphone to say he’d never witnessed any problems in the absence of a gift cap. He acknowledged that IM22 had offered a gift cap but was “written pretty poorly.” He said he’d looked at lobbying restrictions in Nebraska and Minnesota to come up with HB 1074 with its “pretty reasonable exemptions” spelled out in Section 4. But on the cost-of-living adjustment, Speaker Mickelson passed the buck, saying it arose from “a couple concerns” Senator Kris Langer had, “so I’ll let her talk about the amendment.”
Committee member Langer then offered this statement, which I quote in full:
I do think this helps some of my concerns—I will just say “helps,” it doesn’t alleviate all of them, but, um, I would ask you to support the amendment [Sen. Kris Langer, discussion of 2017 HB 1073, in Senate State Affairs, PM meeting, 2017.03.01, timestamp 75:26].
To be clear, Senator Langer told Senate State Affairs nothing about why she wants a cost-of-living adjustment on the lobbying gift cap. Chairman Ewing called for a vote, and the amendment passed 6–3.
Among those voting to automatically increase how much free food and drink legislators can get from lobbyists was my Senator Al Novstrup, who in 2015 and 2016 maintained that teenage workers should not get an automatic annual increase in their minimum wage.
Following the amendment, South Dakota Chamber exec David Owen came to the mic and offered Senator Sutton and his colleagues no explanation of the COLA, either. But he did stroke his Republican friends’ sense of superior morality and martyrdom:
This is a well-written good limitation on gifts that replaces a completely unworkable version drafted and approved by the people, and here’s the tragedy that will befall all of you: the repeal of that unworkable work made page 1, dominated the news. This is a more workable solution, and I’ll bet it doesn’t make page 6 [David Owen, testimony, Senate State Affairs, PM meeting, 2017.03.01, timestamp 79:30].
After a grueling day of picking on immigrants and supporting the President, Senate State Affairs deferred final action on HB 1073 until Monday.